Hiking the Salkantay Trek & Machu Picchu by Yourself for 5 days
Looking at hiking the Salkantay Trek (with Machu Picchu) without a tour or tent for 5 days but aren't sure where to start? I've put together a complete guide with costs*, accommodation, and everything you should know before starting.
*Disclaimer: cost will depend on accommodation, optional activities, the food you purchase, and the exchange rate.
Table of Contents
2. How to Get Salkantay Trek
1. Quick Glance
Time: 5 days, 4 nights
Trail: Point to point
Difficulty: hard (due to elevation and distance)
What to bring: 2L water, snacks, electrolytes, an extra layer (windy/cool up top), and hiking poles.
Elevation: Starting at 3827m, reaching the highest at 4600m
Other information: No internet for most of the hike, can rent mules to go up/down
2. How to Get Salkantay Trek
Getting to Soraypampa is quite easy and straightforward from Cusco:
Cusco-Mollepata: take a van from the corner of Av. Ayahuasca and Av. Apurimac, before 5:30 am (road conditions and weather can make the trip longer than expected), takes ~2 hrs. The van leaves when full (11 people).
Mollepata-Soraypampa: pay the entrance fee and wait for a taxi or ask a tour van to catch a ride. A taxi can be split between 4 people (wait and see if others that will join) and takes ~1 hr.
You will get dropped off at Refugio Nacho (with all the tour buses) where the trail starts.
Van from Cusco to Mollepata; entrance ticket for Mollepata
3. Trail Information for Salkantay Trek
**Due to the high elevation (over 4200m), it is recommended to stay in Cusco for a few days to acclimatize. Before leaving Cusco, chew some coca leaves or drink tea to help with the altitude. Also, chew/drink some before starting Day 2 up to Salkantay Pass.
Salkantay is a long, hard hike that goes through various altitudes where you will be hiking long distances and long days. Proper rest, hydration, and fuel are needed. You need to realistically look at your fitness level to determine if you can do the entire 68-74km.
There are options to rent mules if the elevation is too much. Check with your guesthouse. There are shops along the way for snacks but I would highly recommend you bring enough to go 4-5 hours without seeing one.
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4. 5-Day Itinerary
Day 1: Cusco to Soraypampa to Laguna Humantay
Distance: ~7km | Time: 3-6 hours | Highest Elevation: 4283 (~450 elevation gain) | Cost: S/.138 ($35.79 USD)
Transportation: from Cusco, take the 11-person van to Mollepata where you will have to take a taxi to Soraypampa (you will get dropped off at Refugio Nacho) to start the trail.
Taxi to Van: S/. 10
Cusco-Mollepata van: S/. 20
Mollepata-Soraypampa taxi: S/. 80 (but can be split between 4 people. We had 3 so it was S/. 27/person)
Mollepata Entrance Ticket: S/. 20
Laguna Humantay: I have written a whole blog about Laguna Humantay but here are a few key points:
Morning tour groups arrive between 8-9:30 am and are gone by noon. Afternoon tour groups start to arrive around 3 pm. The best time to visit Laguna Humantay is between 12-3 pm.
The best time to start hiking is around 10 am (if you want to beat the crowds).
Takes about 4-6 hours to complete (enjoying the views at the top).
There is a little shop at the top that sells snacks, beer, and drinks.
There are mules you can rent if the altitude is too much.
Views of Laguna Humanaty
Accommodation: There are a lot of options for places to stay, depending on what you would like to pay. We stayed at Refugio Nachos in a twin room with a shared bathroom (no hot water). There are 12 rooms with the option of a private bathroom with hot water. They also provided all the meals at an extra cost (which are huge portions). They were nice enough to even make us a breakfast and lunch sandwich for that day. They do have wifi but you need to pay for it (S/. 10 to use, S/. 5 if staying). The cost depends if you are staying there or not.
NOTE: there are limited plug-ins (we used a candle for our light in our room) so charge your things when you can.
Twin Room: S/. 60 twin room (S/.30/person)
Breakfast & lunch sandwich: S/. 8 each
Supper: S/. 15
It does get chilly at night here, make sure you have the appropriate layers especially if you decide to camp.
Inside Refugio Nacho; hot coffee upon arrival
Snacks and supper at Refugio Nacho
Day 2: Soraypampa to Collpapampa
Distance: 22km | Time: 8-10 hours | Highest Elevation: 4620 (~660 elevation gain) | Cost: S/.77 ($19.97 USD)
You will want to start early, no later than 6 am as you have a long, hard hike ahead of you. This is where you will be going through the Salkantay Pass, with an elevation of 4600m. I would recommend chewing or sipping some coca leaves before you leave.
There are only a few shops before the Salkantay Pass. When you arrive at Salkantaypampa, this is the last shop for the next 4 hours!
Meals: you will get a very filling breakfast at Refugio Nachos that should last you till the top of the pass. If you want a lunch option, they will make you a takeaway sandwich.
Lunch: S/. 10
Salkantay Pass: this will be the hardest part of the day. Not only are you climbing up over 600m, but you are also going to an elevation of 4600 m. Take your time and remember to hydrate. It will take anywhere from 3-5 hours. Enjoy your lunch here and the views.
Walking to Salkantay Pass; at the highest point of the hike
Accommodation: once you have climbed to the highest point, you now have to climb down! It is a gradual down with amazing scenery, going from the snow-capped mountains to the beginning of the jungle. This will take you around 4-5 hours to get to Challway or Collpapampa (there are little towns between to buy snacks/water) but the last 3 km will seem to take forever! These two towns are 1km apart and the majority of people stay in Challway. We opted for Collpapmpa (Camping el Mirador-last place on the right before the bend to leave town) and found a triple room with wifi, supper, and a hot shower but Collpapmpa seems more for people who are camping.
Room with Supper: S/.50
Extra: S/.2 juice box
Supper and room at Camping el Mirador
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Day 3: Collpapampa to Lucmabamba
Distance: ~17km | Time: 4-6 hours | Highest Elevation: 2900 m (~660 elevation lost) | Cost: S/.150 ($38.90 USD)
You don't have to start as early today but you'll still be putting in the hours. There are 2 options for the trail: 1. You can take the actual trail or 2. You can follow the road. We were accidentally given the wrong instructions and took the road. I'm not sure if that was a blessing in disguise as the others said the trail was really hard with a lot of up-and-down sections. The road is a gradual decline which I think is what we needed after yesterday!
There is a shop called Grenadillas where you can get fresh juice, and snacks or enjoy the hammocks.
Breakfast: S/. 8
Juice at Grenadillas: S/. 5
NOTE: there are a lot of bugs that bite. I highly recommend wearing pants and a long sleeve and bringing bug spray.
Accommodation: we arrived at Lucmabamba and hit the jackpot for accommodation! After what we stayed in last night and for the price, this room seemed like a 5-star! Café Viamonte-Inca Inspired Lodge & Camping is a very up-to-date place with 4 rooms (1 double, 1 twin, and 2 triple) that comes with wifi, hot water, and a towel (free). Roger and his wife are some of the nicest people I have met! She even let us rinse out our smelly shirts, arranged a taxi for us to go to thermals in Santa Teresa, and even let us do a coffee tour that night (Roger's dad owns a coffee farm and it is S/.10/person).
Twin room: S/. 60 (includes supper and breakfast)
Café Viamonte-Inca Inspired Lodge & Camping
Santa Teresa Thermals:
We arrived around noon at Lucmabamba and decided to hit up the thermals to kill some time (and soak our bodies). You will need to take a taxi and the price is split between however many are in the vehicle. The driver will also wait for you there. There are a TON of BUGS! Our bug spray seemed not to work, so wear long sleeves and pants. At the thermals, there are a few local restaurants to eat at and if you don't have a bathing suit or towel, you can rent one.
Lunch: S/. 15
Beer: S/. 8
Thermals Ticket: S/.10
Taxi S/. 40/way
At night we did a coffee tour and it has to be one of the best experiences I have done! Roger's parents are amazing people and are very passionate about what they do! They show you all the steps of how they collect their coffee, even letting you participate. They sell coffee beans, ground coffee, and amazing coffee liquor (that I had to buy). Roger also has a honey farm and you can purchase his honey there.
Coffee tour at Café Viamonte
Day 4: Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes
Distance: 22 km | Time: 8-10 hours | Highest Elevation: 2800 m (~800 elevation gain) | Cost: S/. 201 ($50.66 USD)
The last day of the hike but also another long one! Eat the hearty breakfast they serve you as you will climb up 700m quickly and descend just as quickly. Bring enough water as the weather is warmer since you're entering the jungle. There are a couple of shops along the way but I would highly recommend stopping at the one just before you reach the top (and after the swing). Enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice with a view.
Freshly squeezed orange juice: S/. 5
Snickers: S/. 7
Once you reach Hidroelectrica, you'll need to sign in and there are many shops to buy snacks at or restaurants to eat at. From Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes, it is 10km walking along a rail track and takes about 3 hrs. The rail track is very active, so keep a watch out for trains. This was probably the worse part of the entire trek, I was tired, my feet hurt and I just wanted to be done. It was a long 10kms! Luckily there are a few shops along the way that even serve ice cream!
Lunch: S/. 15
Gatorade: S/. 5
Ice cream: S/. 5
Accommodation: I've never been so happy to see Aguas Calientes, but once you arrive there, you have unlimited hotel options. Do note that Aguas Calientes is a bit more expensive than other places in Peru. I stayed in Casa Machu Picchu Hostel in a dorm room that had wifi and a hot shower (this is next to the train station and if your room is facing that side, it can be quite loud. My room was facing the river so I don't hear much).
Dorm: S/. 29
Supper: S/. 25
Beer: S/. 15
After walking 68km, it was a pretty early night, and also I had to get up early to go to Machu Picchu. For bus tickets up to Machu Picchu (or you can walk the 10km up), you can buy them the day before or the day off. The ticket office is open from 5 am-9 pm. You will need your passport and they also take credit cards. You can also buy bus tickets at Machu Picchu if you walked up or didn't buy a return.
Bus return to Machu Picchu: S/. 95 ($ 24 USD)*price is given in USD
Day 5: Machu Picchu
Cost: S/. 596 ($150.22 USD)
**Tickets for Machu Picchu usually need to be purchased weeks to months in advance. You cannot show up and buy a ticket!** When you purchase your ticket for Machu Picchu, you will need to pick a time and a circuit route. The time on your ticket is the time you need to enter by.
The first bus leaves at 5:30 am but don't worry, they have numerous buses leaving at that time. If you're walking up, Machu Picchu doesn't open until 6 am. If you want a guide, there are many of them waiting at the bus stop or even at Machu Picchu. Guides are a set price, so if you're by yourself, try to find others to split the cost.
If your ticket includes a mountain, do the mountain first before doing the circuit (usually there's a time you need to enter the mountain by).
Machu Picchu Entrance Ticket: S/. 208
Guide: S/. 250 (split between 3 people: S/.80)
Lunch: S/. 25
Views from Machu Picchu Mountain (Circuit 3)
NOTE: you can visit Machu Picchu and get the 3 pm train on the same day. This is what most people who are going back to Cusco (there are also cheaper transport options back). There are 2 train stations in Cusco: Poroy (30 mins from Cusco) and San Pedro (downtown area). Look closely when purchasing your ticket.
Train to Cusco (Poroy): S/. 273 ($69 USD)* price is in USD
Taxi to Cusco: S/. 40 (split by total in the vehicle, S/. 10)
TOTAL COST OF 5D/4N SALKANTY TREK: S/. 1162 ($293 USD)
Per day: S/. 232 ($58.48 USD)
The total cost of this tour was S/. 1162 or $293 USD (S/. 232 or $58.48/day). You can do this cheaper by bringing your own food, and camping equipment, not getting a guide, hiking up to Machu Picchu, and choosing a cheaper transport option back to Cusco.
5. Basic Precautions for the Salkantay Trek without a Tour
The Salkantay Trek reaches high elevations and if you're going to do it on your own, here are a couple of precautions to take (here's the whole list).
1. Be realistic about your fitness especially if you're going to hike it all without help.
2. The highest elevation you will reach is 4600m, you should acclimatize in Cusco first.
3. Drink or chew coca leaves BEFORE you feel the altitude.
4. Hydrate, nutrition, and rest are ALL important!
5. It is not a race, ascend gradually.
6. Know the symptoms of altitude sickness.
There is no internet for most of the hike.
Bring an extra layer as it is cooler, and windier at the top.
Always have 2L of water. There are shops along the way to refill but it can be hours between.
Bring hiking poles to help with the incline/decline.
Always wear sunscreen (bring a hat/sunglasses) and bring bug spray.
Wear proper shoes, it is a rocky trail.
If you have sweaty feet, change your socks during the day or you will get blisters.
Bring a towel or you might be charged for it at the accommodations.
If you plan on going to the thermals, you can rent a bathing suit and towel there.
Bring water tablets to reduce the cost of buying bottled water.
Bring electrolytes (you can buy them at Tatoo Adventure Gear in Cusco). I found they helped a lot.